I work in digital marketing. Several months ago a colleague, “Mary”, and I worked together to develop a monthly newsletter proposal, which was approved. I do all the monthly work to produce it, and I have no problem with it.
But I recently realized that Mary was showing my work as hers to senior managers, although she had not been involved from the early stages of planning. I figured the first two examples might not have been intentional, until a colleague sent me a draft of “Mary’s newsletter” where she had deleted the sender’s proof (ME!) To claim it as his own.
How should I proceed with my bravery thief colleague? She is extremely friendly with me in all interactions and has no idea that I have discovered her dirty secret.
A small but appreciable tragedy of our remote working age is the loss of small dramas in the workplace that once added intrigue to the similarity of the day. Do you remember chatting when you saw this marketing guy and this IT lady sneak in together? Remember the little thrill of trying to stifle laughter in a meeting because your working woman very obviously rolled his eyes? Remember the blackouts throughout the office when someone’s lunch disappeared from the common refrigerator? At first glance, these things may seem silly to miss when we have suffered so much horrific loss – the lives of friends and family, the ability to see or embrace those closest to us, million jobs – but for people who worked in a pre-pandemic office, that social fabric meant something we haven’t fully struggled with in the past 13 months.
So thank you, Anonymous. I don’t want to trivialize your problem, which would absolutely make it impossible for me to sleep at night if that happened to me, but I know OOO readers well enough to know that they’ll be happy to read about this juicy middle-of-the-road injustice. range. Mary is officially the new enemy of this column, and I am grateful to her for that. (Think of this as a plea for more questions about juicy small and medium-scale injustices. Send me an email about all your little work problems.)
Now. The climax of this saga, the moment Mary removed your name from your email, completely changed my philosophy on your question, but we’ll get there. The sad truth is that subtle value theft happens all the time in the workplace. This is often because an idea someone heard becomes relevant in another meeting, and the person who heard the idea brings it up – and “forgets” to give credit. This behavior is ubiquitous, and sometimes it’s not even worth dealing with, if it comes at the cost of your own sanity. (Of course, that doesn’t make it acceptable.) While we love cuddles in the workplace, we’re not looking to become full-time office sleuths or scolders.
That said, these can be easy mistakes to make, and being hypervigilant to give credit where it’s due is crucial to being a good colleague. Remember the viral story of Obama’s staff womens strategy: “amplificationWhere would a woman repeat a key point made by another woman, emphasizing the originator of the idea? It was necessary because research shows that women are more interrupted, less credited, and penalized for speaking at work. So while I wouldn’t be too distorted after an individual instance of not getting the proper credit, I strongly recommend everyone to interview their own role models in this arena, especially men and whites.
My colleague and friend Scott Rosenfield has always been exceptionally deliberate and strategic in giving people credit, even at the risk of underestimating his own accomplishments, so I asked for his recommendations. “Everyone should be assessed in the workplace based on how they bring up those around them,” he told me. (He recommends the book by former Intel CEO Andrew S. Grove High performance management for a broader discussion of this philosophy.) “In practice, I think it’s basically a habit. Always make sure you ask yourself who else should get credit and who would be sad if you don’t get the credit they deserve. It helps to have a co-worker to handle these things and who might point out some of those blind spots to you early on.